What is the thesis statement of the book Founding Brothers by Joseph J. Ellis?

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kipling2448 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Historian Joseph Ellis’s Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation is a work of nonfiction. It is not a novel. It tells the history of the relationships among six key figures in the establishment of the United States of America as a sovereign nation and the issues that divided and united them. Those six figures are Thomas Jefferson, James Adams, Alexander Hamilton, George Washington, James Madison, and Aaron Burr. Ellis’s thesis is that the formation of the United States in its current iteration was far from preordained; the “founding brothers” of the title debated such issues as slavery and federalism with an eye to the primary objective of creating a unified nation from disparate colonies/states despite the extent to which differences existed regarding those issues. The idea of the United States of America, Ellis contends, was more tenuous than most Americans today appreciate and often hung on precarious relationships among those key figures. Ellis’s emphasis on the personal relationships among his subjects is intended to impress upon the reader the importance to the shaping of history of personalities and interactions among strong-willed individuals of principle. His discussions of the animosity between Hamilton and Burr, which resulted in the deadly duel that ended Hamilton’s life, and the complicated relationship between Jefferson and Adams humanize the story of the nation’s founding while instilling in the reader a greater appreciation for the intensity of the debates regarding the drafting of the Constitution. The author’s emphasis on the degree to which each of these individuals recognized the historical significance of their actions serves to further illuminate the exceptional nature of their actions. What these six men accomplished, Ellis argues, was extraordinary even while the issues they avoided (mainly, the issue of slavery) contained the seeds of the conflict that risked the entire endeavor.

The success of the “founding brothers” was the survival of a unified nation even while individual components of that nation—in effect, the states—remained free, for a time, to conduct their affairs without regard to the underlying principles the Constitution was supposed to enshrine.

jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Ellis's thesis is that the energy and revolutionary nature of the Revolution was managed by the collective effort of many key figures, including Franklin, Hamilton, Jefferson, John and Abigail Adams, Madison, and Burr. The American Revolution succeeded because of the dynamic interplay of their different personalities. As these figures all knew each other personally, they were able to negotiate face to face and work out a series of compromises that kept the peace. As Ellis writes, before we became "a nation of laws" we were "also a nation of men" (page 17). To make these compromises that forged a nation, the people involved removed the most contentious issue—slavery—from the agenda. Though slavery was inconsistent with the principles of the Revolution, it was also the most deeply entrenched and difficult issue of the day. The risks of considering the abolition of slavery outweighed the benefits. Finally, the people in these stories knew that people in later days would find them historically significant. They saw themselves as actors in an historical saga. The overall thesis is that the interaction of these powerful but human people made the Revolution possible.

literaturenerd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Joseph J. Ellis' Founding Brothers revolves around the American Revolution and the people and ideologies which accompanied the period. Most novels (both fiction and non-fiction) do not contain a typical thesis. Technically, a thesis refers to the proposition, argument, or statement an essay makes. In the case of this text, the novel itself can be considered a thesis novel (a work meant to instruct or educate on a specific subject). Founding Brothers, then, can be defined as a text which defines both the Jeffersonian and Hamiltonian interpretations of the American Revolution.

Ellis' novel is not meant to appear the preeminent factor which decides the debate between the Jeffersonians and Hamiltonians. Instead, the text illustrates the multiple and diverse personalities which came together in order to become separate themselves from England.

Therefore, there is no singular thesis in the text. Instead, the text as a whole makes a statement to the history, contradictions, people, and ideas behind the American Revolution.

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